Porter Airlines is adding a new twist to its controversial bid to bring jets to Toronto's island airport, putting a second option on the table that calls for extending its main runway further into Lake Ontario, a move it says will reduce noise.
The new plans, outlined in a letter to city officials sent Tuesday and obtained by The Globe and Mail, proposes adding another 32 metres to both ends of the runway, extending it a total of 200 metres into the lake on either side. Lengthening the runway, the letter states, "allows for improved noise abatement procedures, including using less power on take-off." The original proposal called for a 168-metre extension into the water at each end.
The longer runway would not affect boating in the harbour and would enhance safety by providing vessels with a breakwater, the letter from Porter chief executive Robert Deluce states.
The letter to Toronto's Deputy City Manager, John Livey, arrived one day before staff begin a series of public consultations on expansion plans and a request by Porter to lift the ban on jets at Toronto's Billy Bishop airport. The changes are key to plans by the commuter airline to make Toronto's city centre airport a hub for an expanded network of long-haul flights. Porter has conditionally purchased Bombardier CS100 jets to service the new routes.
A residents' group opposed to Porter's plans were quick to criticize the new runway proposal, calling it a "bombshell" dropped at the last minute by the airline before the first public meeting Wednesday night. "The new 400 metre-proposal will encroach on boaters and lake users while paving even more of Lake Ontario," NoJetsTo said in a statement.
Local councillor Adam Vaughan said the second option for longer runways shows Porter cannot meet the city's noise requirements with its original plans.
Not so, said Mr. Deluce, the airline's founder and CEO.
Porter's original plans are still on the table, and remain "a perfectly good solution," Mr. Deluce said in an interview late Tuesday. "We are offering another solution and I think it is up to the city to decide what is the appropriate way to go."
Mr. Deluce said the second option will make "an already quiet aircraft even quieter," and insisted that the runway extension is not needed to meet noise requirements.
The longer runway, he said, also will not affect boating in the harbour and will not change the type of aircraft that can operate at the airport. "We don't think 32 metres changes anything in that regard," he said.
Mr. Vaughan said he believes the latest plans will "choke shipping" in the harbour's Western gap and noted that none of the work done by city staff so far considers this second option. "What it is showing is they need more and more of the waterfront," he said of the airline's revised plans.
City staff are expected to present their evaluation of the expansion plans to Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee in November. In order to go forward, Porter's expansion plan must be approved by the three signatories to the tripartite agreement that governs the airport – the city, the federal government and the Toronto Port Authority. The agreement does not currently allow jets.
Mr. Deluce said January 2016 remains the airline's target date for receiving its first jet delivery.